The Yes Symphonic Live CD set mirrors the 2002 DVD release of the same name. This double disc, 14-song performance features the core quartet of Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Chris Squire and Alan White (along with non-member Tom Brislin played keyboards) and the auspicious European Festival Orchestra. On the road behind the 2001 studio album Magnification, Yes and company keep it solid with Anderson and White stealing the show most of the time.
After an opening “Overture” from the orchestra, we are taken into “Close To The Edge,” and though it’s always great hearing this Yes classic, other than an amazing vocal turn from Anderson, this first Yes/Orchestra mix isn’t all that special. At times, the orchestra actually drags a bit except in some sections. “Long Distance Runaround” follows with a nice opening that really doesn’t develop beyond the usual arrangement, though it features some spot-on perfect Squire moments.
When it comes to the songs from Magnification, Howe really steps it up on “Don’t Go.” The orchestral collaboration really comes together on “In The Presence Of.” It’s everything you want from a Yes orchestral mix — Anderson’s vocals leading it all and White playing odd time signatures that never get cluttered. He really is a great drummer (as if anyone ever doubted).
The 1976 epic “Gates Of Delirium” ends the first disc with one Steve Howe guitar solo tagged on after. Again, this is where the orchestra shines, never competing with Yes, but never taking a back seat either. You can understand why Anderson sounds so good; he is backed up by a wall of sound unlike any he’s used to live, especially for a song as dramatic as “Gates.” All those crashing spikes, the river of tension, the ‘war’ that we’ve always imagined in this classic from Relayer are brought out under Wilhelm Keitel’s baton. “In The Presence Of” and “Gates Of Delirium” are reason enough alone to own this set. And that’s only the first disc.
The second disc begins with “Starship Trooper” with Anderson in great form, along with some sparkling guitar work from Howe. Both he and White are high up in the mix on these recordings, while the orchestra is more muted. “Magnification” is next, featuring some splendid Howe slide work. “And You and I” has Anderson’s soaring vocals and the orchestra coming in at the halfway mark — the brass is especially noticeable — and the first real expressive solo from Brislin. “Ritual,” like “Gates,” is another one that works well with the orchestra, and features yet again another blistering performance from White. At nearly 30 minutes, this is the centerpiece of the disc and one of the standout tracks on Symphonic Live.
The set ends with “I’ve Seen All Good People,” “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” and “Roundabout.” Anderson floats on “People,” while “Heart” kind of lies flat, sorry to say, though Howe gives it his best, with maybe the most rockin’ playing on these two discs. “Roundabout” has Anderson sounding like it’s 1973 and Yessongs is playing at midnight. As a whole, When Symphonic Live is good, it is very good, with the orchestra complementing the band on songs like “In The Presence Of,” “Gates of Delirium” and and “Ritual.” Which makes it a must-have to round-out (or roundabout) your Yes collection.
~ Ralph Greco, Jr.